Monday, March 21, 2016

#13: The Cover Story: Your Publisher Has the Last Word

I'm blogging about my experiences in the traditional publishing world because I've had two book deals and neither of them turned out as well as I'd hoped. I've decided to go indie on my third book, just to see if I have better luck with it.

But I know thousands (millions?) of other authors would still love the support of a traditional publisher. That's why I love sharing my experiences with you. Chances are, you're only going to get one shot at success in the traditional publishing world. The more prepared you are for it, the better!


I'm not an artist, by any means. But I've always considered myself a creative person and I definitely had some ideas for the designs of my first book cover. As the revision process went on, I kept expecting someone from the publisher to ask me for them, but that never happened. Ditto on the second book deal. 

Here's the bottom line: your publisher has total control over what your cover is going to look like. That's even plainly spelled out in your contract. So if you have your heart set on one particular design for your book, put it this way:

Just don't get your heart set on one particular design. ;)

Because it may not be the one you end up with.

Now there are upsides to having your book cover designed in-house. It's really nice not to have to pay out of your own pocket for a cover, which all indie authors have to do, including me (though it was worth it!). It's also great not having the pressure of designing your own cover or choosing from the talented artists out there.

Because there are thousands of excellent book designers for hire.

So there are definite benefits to having the publisher design your cover. But just be warned: your opinion is not going to be the top priority. The publisher, the marketing & sales departments and your editor will be most central to the process.

Here's how it's going to work when you get your book deal.

The in-house designer is going to either get a summary of your book - or have the opportunity to read the manuscript itself. It's a long, time-consuming process that must begin shortly after you sign your contract.

About nine or ten months before your book hits the shelves, your editor will send you the cover design - most likely by email. He or she will be really excited for your feedback. People do get excited about their projects at publishing houses and that support feels great. But these 'ups' are also peppered with lots of challenges, so be prepared for a rollercoaster ride.

I actually got to see my cover art in my editor's office because my husband and I were in New York on other business.

It was always a treat to visit my editor (whom I loved!) in the low-key glamour of the Simon & Schuster headquarters in Midtown Manhattan. But that day, I was happier than usual, walking on air.

Because I'd dreamt about seeing my first book cover all my life ...

When I got to my editor's office, I notice she had wrapped the cover art around another book, just so I could see what it might look like on a shelf. She set it on her window ledge and - with an excited smile on her face - asked me what I thought. I'll ask you the same question now ...

What do you think of the design for "Devil May Care?"

Because, to tell you the truth, I wasn't crazy about it. I didn't tell my editor that, of course. As I said, I adored her and I didn't want to hurt her feelings. Or the designer's either! btw, if you're lukewarm on this design, in the artist's defense, DMC was a really quirky cross-genre dark comedy, something that would've been very hard to interpret in a book jacket design. So it must've been a real challenge for any artiste.

Anyway, as I sat there staring at the cover, I felt my spirits sink. But I brought a smile to my face and managed to say, with enthusiasm, "Is it ever different!" My editor heaved a sigh of relief, picked up the phone and called the designer (I presume). 

"The author likes it," she said. And that was it. 

I'm not sure what would've happened if the author didn't like it. I was too shy and insecure to give my honest opinion. It's up to you whether or not you want to practice throwing your weight around on your first book deal, but it definitely wasn't my speed. 

Oh, btw, get used to being called 'the author' a lot by everyone at your publisher. The author likes it. We're sending it to the author next week. It feels really great - at first. But after a while you'll realize they're not calling you 'the author' out of respect, but because at a big publishing house, everyone works with hundreds - if not thousands - of writers, many of whom will be established or even famous. So they call you 'the author' because ...

as a first-timer, they probably don't even remember your name. ;)

If you're following the blog, you know that DMC had more than it's fair share of problems, not the least of which was being released in the shadow of the blockbuster THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA. (For more on that heartbreak and hilarity, check out this post about how my title got changed: #8: Non-Working Titles)

Anyway, as confident as everyone was in my book, we didn't end up with a bestseller we'd hoped for. DMC fizzled out within a couple of months. (I could add reams about how depressed I was over that, but we'll just cut to one year later when I'd stopped crying. Almost.)

The paperback was scheduled to be released a year after the hardcover. Kudos for S&S for even taking a chance on the paperback because a publisher is not obligated to release the paperback version if the hardcover doesn't sell well. (If you're even lucky enough to get a hardcover in the first place!)

Kudos also to S&S for trying to give the book a boost by redesigning the cover. 

The new design bore more than a passing resemblance to the white-and-red cover of PRADA, I guess in an attempt to fool readers into buying it. I actually liked this new design very much. I thought it was simple and classic, sort of like a chick-lit version of my high school copy of CATCHER IN THE RYE. 

Unfortunately, neither PRADA fans (nor Salinger ones for that matter!) were fooled into making the book a hit and ... insert reams about depressed writer crying over her failed novel.

I guess that's one of the reasons I'm coming clean about my experience in the traditional publishing world. Only a few of us get a chance to even write a book, let alone publish one. An infinitesimally smaller number write that elusive bestseller. I'm not saying that if I'd been more prepared, I would've hit the bestseller lists.

But I would've had an easier, happier, more successful time of it!

So subscribe to the blog and give yourself the best possible chance of making your first book a hit!

btw there's actually more to say about covers - and I have my own cover reveal for HUNTER'S MOON coming up! My first indie cover just got finalized - and I love it so much, my heart has taken flight!

In the meantime, check out this fantastic cover for a great indie writer I met online, Sue Lloyd. This is the cover for her second indie novel, CASSIE'S HOPE. How great does that look?

If you're an indie writer and you need a cover designer, don't forget to check out Both Sue and I used them. I'm not on their payroll btw. I just know how hard it is to get a cover you really love - whether you're indie otherwise - and both Sue and I have found our artistic soulmates at The Cover Collection.

On top of their incredible talent, they're friendly, fast and reasonable, with countless pre-made covers available and a talented team of designers for custom work!  If you're an indie author, don't forget to check them out! Special thanks to Debbie and Lauren btw!

And check out @AuthorSLloyd1 too! She's a talented writer - and hilarious on Twitter! 

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